Why is Sonic wearing a sodding scarf? Seriously. Can someone please explain why Sonic is trying to evoke the rugged heroism of Nathan Drake? Has it really come to this? And while we're at it... why is Knuckles a triangle with legs now? He looks like he's been freebasing creatine.
Despite vomiting heavily into a bag upon witnessing the hideous visual transformations of Sonic and co. for this new venture, excused of course by chants of TV and transmedia, I foolishly thought that there could be some merit in really shaking up the Sonic formula, getting some proper co-op gameplay involved, and busting out some awesome action-platforming. But, though it might be easy to suggest a revamp for a series that's been inconsistent over the last decade, Sonic Boom is not the answer.
I actually liked Lost World in parts. It was flawed, sure, but I had fun with it in places. Sonic Boom, however, exists to remind you of the very worst PS2-era platforming tie-ins. Simple movement is incredibly imprecise and twitchy. Sonic constantly overshoots areas, and Knuckles appears to handle like a lead brick mired in treacle. Enemies pop up for you to smack down by spamming the face buttons for normal and special attacks -- Sonic does a spin-dash, and Knuckles, well, Knuckles can climb walls.
There's a useful little dodge button, and all of the characters have an Enerbeam whip that can be used to disarm shielded enemies, or even pick up foes and swing them around a bit before flinging them into a wall. This doesn't damage them, it seems, but it might buy you an extra second or two, and it's useful for knocking out an oncoming horde.
To be fair, trading punches and kicks as Sonic was actually not too bad. The blue blur is pretty zippy and responsive and though the enemies provided little variety or any particular need for tactical thinking, the action was straightforward enough. I tried to swap to Knuckles for a bit, though, and his sluggish heavy-hitting made me want to crack the GamePad in half. Admittedly, I'd just been playing Bayonetta 2, but even so, the tired fighting, the dodgy camera, and the lumbering lethargy of Knuckles made me want to break things.
I asked one of the young fellows who'd been hired for the day to stand next to the booths and deliver verbal press releases on all of the games his opinion on the game.
"I'm not trying to trick you," I said. "But is it just me or is this a steaming pile of balls?"
He laughed at this and intimated that I might not have been the first person to observe this about Sonic Boom, but suggested that he couldn't possibly pass comment himself. I applauded his professionalism and decided to play on to fulfil my own.
Enter Sonic Boom's detective mode. Tapping Sonic's head on the GamePad creates a blue overlay on the screen that allows you to see hidden trails of footprints that lead to hidden treasure and collectibles. However, don't expect to be able to move while you're doing this. For some reason you can't actively follow the trail of footsteps with the overlay on, though. Instead you have to play a crap game of statues with yourself, locating the footprints, turning of the overlay and shuffling along a bit, turning it back on and checking you're on the right path, and so on.
If the action levels were somewhat disappointing, they were nothing compared to the speed levels. These might as well have been cutscenes, such was the degree to which the player is banished from what's going on. I hit a few boost pads and then I actually put the GamePad down for a little bit, There were a few moments where I had to hit jump, but otherwise that was pretty much the limit of my interaction with that particular level. I already own Sonic Dash, I have no desire for a console version of it.
A boss fight against Robotnik followed, where the bald, moustachioed evildoer began raining down missiles from a floating mech. Being Robotnik, of course, most of the missiles proceeded to splutter and fail, giving us ample opportunity to whip them back at Robotnik's face. Not that he went down easily, in fact it was one of the longest boss fights I've witnessed from a Sonic game as Robotnik laughed in the face of the rule of three, and took hit after hit. Obviously in co-op mode you'll be able to have one of you clearing out goons from the floor while others pick up missiles and fling them at the evil, ginger doctor. However, I was playing this solo, and the companion AI was about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
The difficulty with previews is that whenever you're appraising the state of a game in development, you have to remember that work is still ongoing. It's not a finished product and therefore shouldn't be held to account in the same manner as a completed product. Sonic Boom is a transmedia tie-in designed for co-operative play, so there's only so much you can pick up from playing it solo for 20-30 minutes. Unfortunately, what I picked up is that it's shaping up to be a rather unfocused, slapdash affair with uninspired combat, dubious handling, and barely a fraction of the charm and invention of its platforming peers.
So it's looking like most tie-ins in that respect.